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New York Theater

The Blowin of Baile Gall

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In Ronan Noone's "The Blowin of Baile Gall," characters use stories about long-dead relatives who worked as rent collectors during the Irish potato famine as ammunition against one another. Yet even as the residents of this small Irish town battle, they huddle together against outsiders (or "blowin"), whom they see as a threat.

The natives' insular nature proves to have calamitous repercussions in Noone's play, which unfolds in a home undergoing renovation (Richard Chambers' mid-construction scenic design astounds). The work is being overseen by good-natured, just-returned-from-America -- in other words, a blowin -- Samuel (George C. Heslin). One worker, the erudite hothead Eamon (Colin Hamell), resents Samuel's authority, primarily because of a feud (begun over six eggs) between their parents.

Working alongside Eamon are good-natured Molly (Susan B. McConnell), a schoolmate and ex-girlfriend of Eamon, and Stephen (Ciaran Crawford), a young man brought up in an orphanage (another blowin) and Molly's current beau. When Samuel hires a soft-spoken but intuitively powerful Nigerian immigrant, Laurence (Ato Essandoh), instead of Eamon's cousin, frayed relationships and allegiances prove combustible.

While director David Sullivan's production simmers beautifully and explodes with force (thanks to fight choreographer D.C. Wright's contribution), "Blowin" can feel overextended. One senses that subplots -- Eamon's living on the dole while working, Stephen's alcoholism -- are included not so much to enrich the fabric of the play as to increase the stakes in the violence that seems preordained.

Nonetheless, the production features a quintet of immaculately detailed performances, from Hamell's wiry and mercurial Eamon to Essandoh's brooding Laurence. Crawford and Heslin bring nuance to their characters, notably slight variations in their Irish brogues that establish them firmly as blowin. McConnell marvelously conveys Molly's conflicting instincts to nurture and brawl, which, sadly, both blowin and native are apt to do here.

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